I possess a curiosity about African American women leaders partially because I claim to be one and partially because I want to understand the complexities and/or challenges in becoming one. My goal, while searching for a dissertation topic, was to uncover the traits that build African American leaders of South Carolina. I was hoping that I learned could translate what I learned to a greater understanding of African American women leaders in general. I was not very successful in identifying the traits, but I did learn a few things.
The first thing I learned is that that social identity, the way we identity ourselves as either individuals or groups influences our behaviors. Okay, what does that mean exactly? It means that how we see ourselves at work determines our actions and those actions maybe in direct conflict to how we see ourselves at home. This conflict may create stress. It means that an African American woman leader may seem unwilling to obtain a leadership role out of fear of antagonizing and alienating her mate or others in her culture.
If the woman is the leader, what does that say about her husband or significant other? Or more importantly, why should it say anything about her partner? Because, it appears that socialization and stereotypes still run rampant and many believe that leadership traits are masculine and therefore women should not be leaders.
Some women attempt to bridge this gap by emulating the Mammy archetype role.
Culture, socialization, and stereotyping have an influential impact in the way women in leadership positions are treated.
What challenges have you faced that may have been based on culture or stereotyping? How did you overcome them? What advice would you give others?
Doretha Walker is an adjunct instructor at the Art Institute of Charleston, frequent guest columnist in the Post & Courier, marathoner, triathlete, PhD candidate, and writer of the blog We Can Fly. You can also visit her website and follow her on Twitter @dorethawalker.